Where Greenwich and Europe aren’t an ocean apart

The Homestead Inn in Greenwich is so much more than that.

“We are a full-service luxury hotel,” says Theresa Henkelmann, proprietor with husband and Chef Thomas Henkelmann.

After whiling away a few hours in its gracious company on a lovely spring day you can’t help but concur.

The Homestead is set back from winding Field Point Road in the Belle Haven area on three manicured acres laced with tulips, potted plants and flowering bushes. A porch set with white wicker furnishings, green-and-white striped cushions and hanging geraniums offers an airy yin to the cozy yang of the bar, with its dark red walls, rich wood and oversize leather chairs. As you wait in the bar for Theresa – a glamorous blonde resplendent in a yellow and black ensemble – maitre d’ Rocco Petratta, all courtly charm, pours you a cup of coffee from a silver pot. You notice the pale green map on a far wall that stands in vivid contrast to the bar’s deep red palette.

Commissioned by Theresa from Redstone Studios in Durham, Conn. – where artist Connie Brown does one-of-kind wall maps on canvas for private clients, companies and organizations – the Homestead map is less geography than biography. It’s the story of the Henkelmanns and their journey, with Greenwich and Europe no longer an ocean apart.

Europe is a key to the Homestead. The main building is a former Italianate Gothic-style inn dating from 1859. A portion of it is even older, dating from 1799 when the property was a colonial homestead.

“Europe has always been a huge part of our clientele,” Theresa says, along with California and Texas.

And, Europe is where Thomas, a master French chef, got his start, studying in his native Germany and Geneva before being mentored by Paul Haeberlin, the late chef and owner of L’Auberge de l’ill, one of the great classic French restaurants. It was Paul’s son Marc who paved the way for Thomas to become executive chef of the restaurant Maurice at Le Parker Meridien in Manhattan. Subsequently, he became executive chef of La Panetière in Rye. In 1997, the Henkelmanns bought the Homestead to showcase Thomas’s cuisine.

“The food’s the draw,” Theresa says, to which a leisurely lunch during our visit attests. The soup du jour – an asparagus soup with lobster meat, croutons and no cream – nonetheless has a velvety texture to go along with its savory taste. The meaty, lightly browned Maryland crab cakes are served with tender baby carrots, a gentle bed of sautéed spinach and delicate waffle chips that are a filigree of flavor. We abstain (reluctantly) from dessert, but the ladies at the table next to us can’t stop talking about the profiteroles and indeed their entire meal.

The setting for the jewel that is the cuisine at Thomas’ eponymous restaurant is the attentive but unhurried service. That, too, has a Continental air, with a nod as well to the Midwest.

“I’m from Grosse Pointe, Michigan,” Theresa says, “and I genuinely like people.”

Her approach, then, is part good Midwestern manners and part Golden Rule. She asks herself how she would like to be treated and then does unto others. It helps, she says, to have the Homestead staff, which ranges from 38 to 50, depending on the need.

“They’re such terrific people and so professional.”

Still, being a hotelier is not for the faint-hearted.

“Had I known,” she says with a laugh. “Would I like to have more time for myself?”

Indeed, she would like to write. “I have a great pamphlet inside of me,” she adds with self-deprecating wit. “But I do love it here.”

If her husband’s food is the draw, then her artfully eclectic interior design keeps you there. The Homestead has 11 rooms and seven suites, with nine accommodations in the main building and nine in the Carriage House. There’s also the newly renovated Cottage Boardroom for corporate retreats while the Barn is used for storage.

As a tour with hotel manager and events director Renata Augusto demonstrates, no two suites/rooms are alike. They’re painted goldenrod, pistachio, melon and celadon. (Our favorite is red and white with a red and yellow, skylit bath.) They contain Chinese urns and Indian prints. They’re accented by pear sculptures, dragonfly lights and everywhere monkeys – monkey sconces, stuffed monkeys in fanciful birdcages and monkeys bearing trays that hold the Homestead’s business cards. Theresa is fond of monkeys and elephants.

The textiles and furnishings are by Brunschwig & Fils and Donghia; the cherry bespoke furniture by Dana Robes.

But the fascinating décor, blending accents from the roads to Morocco and Bali, suggests a life well-traveled. You just want to sink into these spaces.

The home page on the Homestead’s website says that the difference between real life and the movies is that real life has bad lighting and no score.

Backlit by the Homestead, you’ll always hear the music.

The Homestead Inn & Thomas Henkelmann restaurant are at 420 Field Point Road in Greenwich. Rates range from $350 to $495 a night. For more, call (203) 869-7500 or visit homesteadinn.com.

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